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Counties call for election reforms based on 2020 experience

HARRISBURG –The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) released its preliminary report and recommendations outlining county priorities for further Election Code reforms, and strongly urged the General Assembly and administration to work together closely with counties to create positive, effective election policy.

“Despite the challenges of 2020 – including implementation of Act 77 and administering elections in the middle of a global pandemic – counties continued to uphold their responsibility to deliver fair, secure and successful elections,” said Butler County commissioner and 2021 CCAP President Kevin Boozel. “But counties have also learned a great deal from our experiences on the front lines, and we have identified a number of areas where we can work with the General Assembly and administration to improve the Election Code and our elections processes.”

As their top priority for 2021, counties are renewing their call to allow counties additional time to pre-canvass mail-in ballots, and to move the deadline for mail-in ballot applications back to 15 days prior to an election in conjunction with the voter registration deadline.

“These two priorities alone could resolve a significant portion of the challenges counties experienced in 2020,” said Indiana County commissioner and CCAP Elections Reform Committee chair Sherene Hess.

Counties raised concerns for months prior to the November election that if they were unable to begin processing the expected volume of absentee and mail-in ballots before Election Day, they would have very real challenges in providing the timely results they knew would be sought, especially in a highly contested and highly visible presidential election. And unfortunately, as predicted it took several days for the millions of mail-in ballots to be counted, delaying election results and causing confusion despite counties’ best efforts. Therefore, counties renew their call for legislation to allow pre-canvassing to begin prior to Election Day, thus allowing counties to focus on administering an in-person election on Election Day, improving workload management and allowing results to be available much more efficiently.

In addition, Act 77 permitted voters to apply for a mail-in ballot up to seven days before an election, which created timing challenges with the postal service. Many voters faced uncertainty about whether they would receive their ballot, or whether the county would receive their ballot in time. With postal delays and ongoing public health concerns, shifting this deadline to 15 days before an election offers the best opportunity to enfranchise our mail-in voters by offering more confidence that ballots will be able to make it from the county to the voter and back again.

Boozel and Hess noted that in addition to these two priority issues, counties seek meaningful reforms that can address other issues that arose during the 2020 elections, including additional Election Code amendments, particularly to clarify matters that became subjects of interpretation throughout various lawsuits, as well as administrative issues to be addressed with the state and recommendations related to county operations and administration.

“It is our responsibility to work together in the future to promote a smoother election process in support of our democracy,” said Hess. “Counties – as the entities that administer our elections – must be at the table for these conversations to help create language that is clear and easily understood and to identify upfront any potential challenges with implementation.”

“Running elections should be about making sure that our systems are secure and accurate and that our voters can have confidence that every properly cast vote will count,” added Boozel. “Every level of government has a stake in assuring our elections are secure, fair and accurate, and we look forward to working with our state partners on this important topic.”

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